It’s time to look into a concept that will get you another step closer to sounding like a native French speaker – l’imparfait or the French imperfect tense.
Even though this tense seems daunting, the French imperfect is widely used in conversations about the past. Humans have a habit of recounting past events with current companions, and the imperfect tense is perfect for that! This guide will get you comfortable using l’imparfait smoothly and help you on every step of your “imperfect” journey.
How does French imparfait compare to English imperfect?
There is no real correlation between l’imparfait and the English imperfect. They both correspond to was, would and used to. These are employed to discuss events that have happened and are no longer happening.
The formula for conjugation is to take the nous form of the verb, drop the -ons and add the imperfect suffix (check the table below).
Finir Imperfect Tense Conjugation Table
A few things to keep in mind:
- Verbs ending with -cer take the cedilla accent if “c” falls before “a”: Il l’effaçait. (He was erasing it.)
- Verbs ending with -ger adopt an “e” after the “g”: Il arrangeait les meubles. (He was arranging the furniture.)
French is known for having exceptions, and that includes the French imperfect. For example, the verb être has a unique root. Look at how it’s conjugated in the table below.
|Être Imperfect Tense Conjugation Table|
Review these and a few other helpful French imperfect conjugations here:
The Basics of French Imperfect Tense Use
You may be aware of another branch of French past tense called the passé composé, which is often used alongside l’imparfait. So when do we use the French imperfect tense instead?
1. When talking about occurrences that don’t have a concrete narrative or start/end
Je montais l’échelle. (I was climbing the ladder.)
2. In harmony with the passé composé to start a scene before another action
Elle regardait la télévision quand sa grand-mère a appelé. (She was watching TV when her grandmother called.)
You can observe that the verb regarder is in imperfect tense and describes the setting when a second event, “sa grand-mère a appelé,” happens in the passé composé.
3. Events that happened routinely
Chaque jour je faisais du yoga. (Every day I would do yoga.)
Avoid Mistakes With These Perfectionist Tips
Since there is a fine line between passé composé and imperfect tense in French, it’s easy to misplace the two. When you are a beginner, it can be difficult to realize when to use which one. What can you do to avoid making simple mistakes?
1. Practice, practice, practice (especially listening)!
While you might be tired of listening practice, the trick to nailing the French imperfect is to do just that. No one can become an Olympic gold medalist without putting in the effort to train every single day. Luckily for you, there are so many components and variations in language that you never have to get bored practicing the same old routine.
2. Learn and study which words signal the French imperfect.
Another way to steer clear of mistakes is to keep a list of certain words that signal French imperfect tense. For example, tous les jours (every day) often has imperfect conjugation with it. Write all such phrases and words on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you’ll see every day, like your mirror. Then you can groom both your body and mind at the same time!
Soon the French imperfect tense will feel second nature to you, and you’ll become a master weaver of past tales. For any other help and guidance, connect with our French tutors. See you next post!